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Indian Art: The evolution of the Bengal School of Painting

Abundant Art Gallery Posted: january 14, 2019 / Modified: january 14, 2019
Indian Art: The evolution of the Bengal School of Painting
Indian art is a rich ancient heritage. For thousands of years, it has developed with dedicated contributions from innumerable artists, known and unknown. Some of them struggled and sacrificed in the process of creation and some of their works continue to mesmerize us. Indian art has also played an important role in a collaborative process with art across boundaries and became richer by accepting and incorporating the best from other traditions and cultures. Inbreeding diverse styles resulted in creating a range of genres and techniques.
The subjects on which ancient Indian Art, painting and sculpture revolved were invariably abstract human forms. The pieces of art carried a message about religion-Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Sculpture was the favoured medium of artistic expression on the Indian subcontinent.

1. Collective over the individual
Traditionally the Indian artists did not sign their work. They believed in the collective over the individual. Indian artists often worked in guilds and were not celebrated as individuals with a signature style and an idiosyncratic creative flair, as opposed to in the artists in the west. In fact, before the 20th century in Indian art there were few Van Goghs, Michelangelos or Rembrandts. The scene gradually changed with individual artist beginning to gain greater individual exposure.

2. One unbroken tradition
The tradition of Indian culture extends from the Indus Valley Civilization of 2500 to 1800 bc when small terra-cotta and bronze figures were produced. The great circular stone pillars and curved lions of the Mauryan period (3rd century bc) gave way to mature Indian figurative sculpture in the 2nd and 1st centuries bc, in which Hindu and Buddhist themes were already well established. A wide range of styles and traditions subsequently flourished in different parts of India over the succeeding centuries. In the history of art, the cave paintings of Ajanta were just a wonder. Illora and Bagh came after it. The Buddha image was not deficient in anatomy, for the Indian approach was essentially different. It was pure Indian in spirit and idiom and was, moreover, inspired by yoga. This prosperous heritage paves our ingress into the metaphysical philosophy of Indian art and culture.

There is another ‘gharana’, the erotic, in Indian art on the walls of various temples across India. This amazingly animated and sensuous group, oozing in human emotions and decorative beauty, also found a unique place in the verses of famous poets like Kalidas; charming, modest, coy and beautifully poised oval head; the robust and ornamentally carved figures portrays the true Indian ideal sensuality. The joyous rhythm of dance vibrates through these sculpted devadasis exhaling the breath of spring. This style of pervasive erotic art mostly culminated in temples like Khajuraho and the Sun temple of Konark. The statues are full of gusto with undeniable metaphysical interpretation.
Cave paintings in India was followed by Gujrati and Rajasthani styles, Then came the Rajput and Mughal Paintings. ‘Scroll painting’, popularly known as ‘pata chitra’ of Kalighat is another art form which is completely objective in nature. Apart from this, ‘pata painting’ of Orissa is considered an important form in the region.

3. Spiritual over the material
Indian art represented an inner spiritual world, whereas western art was based more on the materialistic society. Indian art is the embodiment of philosophical, religious, mythological and historical ideas. On the other hand, at various stages in the history of European art, there have been attempts to make art ‘imitative’. Not only Greek and Roman art, but the Renaissance and classical art in Europe, represent the world as it really is.
European influence arrived during the period of East India Company from which the era of Indian Modern art technique starts. In fact, from the time of E. B. Havell who has bridged the gap between two different art cultures, after the establishment of the Government Art School where he was appointed as the first principal. Havell has a huge contribution in Indian art for its modern development. Havell’s major ideas about Indian art and its basic art theory are to be found in two works, ‘Indian Sculpture and Painting (1908) and more importantly ‘The Ideals of Indian Art’ (1911). The latter was aimed at changing the European indifference to appreciation of the aesthetics and rhythmic qualities in Indian art. Nature, to the European, is always an obvious reality which must be studied, explored and analyzed, so that the exact composition of every organic and inorganic element in it may be ascertained and explained. Realism to the Indian artist has a different meaning -all we see in Nature is transitory and illusive declaring that the only reality is the Divine Essence and spirit.

Among the various mediums, mainly oil was used as the medium of painting in Europe after tempera. In India Raja Ravi Varma was the pioneer of European styled oil painting in the modern era. The other eminent artists were Annada Baghchi, Shashi Hes, Paresh Majumdar, Purna Ghosh, Purna Chakraborty, Jamini Ray, Atul Basu, Satish Singha, Hemen Majumdar and so many who followed the European gharana technically.
In the year 1907, Lord Curzon gave sufficient help and support to establish ‘Indian Society of Oriental Art’. Nandalal Basu, Ashutosh Chaudhury, Gaganendranath Thakur, Abanindranath Thakur, Ardhendu Ganguly were the main entrepreneurs of the society. Their main effort was to reconcile the two art forms. Gaganendranath and Abanindranath absorbed the occidental style and mixed it with oriental ideas creating a new form of painting called ‘Abanindra Style’ or ‘Indian Painting’. Another distinctive feature of ‘The Bengal School of Art’ was an influential style of art that flourished in India during the British Raj in the early 20th century. It was associated with Indian nationalism but was also promoted and supported by many British art administrators. Abanindranath Tagore who created the inspirational ‘Bharat Mata’ was the pioneer of the movement. Tagore painted a number of works influenced by Mughal Art, a style that he and Havell, believed to be expressive of India’s distinct spiritual qualities, as opposed to the ‘materialism’ of the West. Nandalal Basu, Kalipada Ghoshal, Benod Behari Mukhopaddhyay, Ramkinkar Baij were the followers of this school.
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